Whistleblowers in the UK, like whistleblowers elsewhere, often face enormous career and personal risks when reporting wrongdoing.
The Guardian newspaper recently interviewed 12 UK whistleblowers in various private and public sectors to get their thoughts on blowing the whistle and to find out whether they do it again. The story marks the 25th anniversary of Protect (formerly known as Public Concern at Work), a UK whistleblower protection organization. Almost all said they would – that they would be unable to keep quiet.
“It’s about following your conscience,” said one whistleblower, expressing a common view most whistleblowers have. “How would you live with yourself if you didn’t do it?”
Here are a few of the corporate whistleblowers who were profiled in The Guardian and their comments about their experiences as whistleblowers.
Antoine Deltour, Luxleaks whistleblower
Antoine Deltour, a former employee at the PricewaterhouseCoopers international accountancy firm, learned of large-scale tax pacts between Luxembourg and several international corporations. He leaked information about the controversial tax agreements by the corporations to French journalist Edouard Perrin. The leak resulted in criminal charges against Deltour, who was convicted of theft in Luxembourg in 2016. After an appeal, he was given a 6-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay a 1,500 euro fine (roughly $1,665). Despite the consequences, he insists he would make the same decision and blow the whistle.
- “Democracy demands information. I still believe I acted in the public interest.”
Osita Mba, whistleblower in a case involving HMRC and Goldman Sachs
Osita Mba, a former solicitor for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC – the UK’s tax collection authority), blew the whistle on a suspicious sweetheart deal between HMRC and the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Mba was harassed, threatened with firing and had his privacy violated when HMRC used the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to rifle through Mba’s and his wife’s phone and email records – a controversial move that was widely condemned in British Parliament.
- “I have paid dearly in terms of my career so far, but the peace of mind I have enjoyed is priceless.”
- “Only the truth will set you free. If I find myself in a situation where my conscience tells me that speaking out is the right thing to do, I will do it.”
Michael Woodford, whistleblower in Olympus case
Michael Woodford had barely been in his new position as president and CEO of Olympus, a Japanese optics & medical device company, when he raised concerns about suspicious company transactions. He exposed a $1.5 billion scheme of fraud and cover-ups involving kickbacks, investment losses, and payments to criminal organizations. The company promptly removed Woodford from his position as CEO, and he faced harassment and death threats.
Woodford later sued Olympus in the UK for firing and defaming him in retaliation, and he won a £10 million (approximately $15M) settlement.
The Olympus accounting scandal that Woodford revealed resulted in the arrests of numerous senior directors, bankers, and auditors, and wiped out about 75% of Olympus’ valuation.
- “At times I felt I was in Alice in Wonderland and I questioned my sanity. I was completely isolated.”
- “If you are going to take on a large company, make sure to seek advice, talk to people you trust and seek legal advice.”
For stories about whistleblowers Phillips & Cohen has represented, see our “Whistleblower stories” page.
UK whistleblowers often turn to US whistleblower programs
Many people in the UK who know of wrongdoing in the financial industry and other places in the corporate world look across the pond to the whistleblower programs at the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission for solutions. They turn to the SEC and CFTC, if the agencies regulate those companies in some way, because US programs offer whistleblowers rewards, unlike the UK.
The SEC and CFTC offer whistleblowers 10 percent to 30 percent of the amount recovered if an enforcement action recovers $1 million or more. This means that in cases of large-scale corporate fraud, whistleblowers can receive immense sums as rewards.
Phillips & Cohen represented an international whistleblower in one such case, winning a record-setting $32 million reward for its client. This was at the time the largest reward ever paid by the SEC’s whistleblower program. Phillips & Cohen represents a number of whistleblowers in other countries, including many from the UK.
If you are considering filing a whistleblower claim, contact Phillips & Cohen for a free, confidential review of your case.